Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Untold Story of Iraq (Part 3): Economic Regeneration and the Promise of Prosperity

Security has fostered relationships that allowed U.S. Marines and other U.S. agencies in al Anbar Province to partner with local Iraqi leaders to build local democratic governments, establish the rule of law, and improve Anbar’s economy while rebuilding long-neglected infrastructure and restoring vital services. Across the province, U.S. and Iraqi cooperation is building new hospitals, schools, and government buildings. It is improving roads, railways, and bridges. What is more, cooperation is building new power plants and sewage treatment facilities, and improving the area’s oil refineries and fuel distribution centers.

As the quality of life improves through the restoration of vital services, U.S. agencies are creating business development centers and helping Iraqis obtain micro-financing and foreign investment while encouraging wealthy Iraqis, yes they do exists, to invest in their country’s future. Such programs are already helping increase output of Anbar’s established cement, tile, and steel fabrication factories. Likewise, investment is helping improve irrigation for livestock and farm products.

Many prominent Iraqis have traveled around the Middle East and have seen examples of the region’s prosperity. They understand Iraq’s potential and have a shared vision for al Anbar’s future. This common vision includes thriving agriculture, mining, and manufacturing industries, and even a growing tourism industry. In fact, Anbari leaders hope to turn a popular resort on the shores of Lake Habbaniyah into a world-class resort attracting tourists from all over the region.

In addition to the promise of new economic prosperity, social changes are taking place that are beginning to transform Anbari society. Anbaris are no longer isolated or indoctrinated by state-owned media. New radio and television stations, along with new newspapers, magazines, and improved Internet access, are helping to not only educate and inform Anbaris, but include them in the discussion of issues and exchange of ideas. For the first time in history, local Anbari leaders are using the media to engage their people, to include call-in programs where locals can talk to their officials about important issues.

Improved security means more parents are sending their children to school. Likewise, more opportunities are encouraging many Iraqis to attend adult literacy programs or vocational training. Al Anbar University, which oversees seventeen colleges across al Anbar, including a woman’s college, is enjoying increasing enrollment. Meanwhile, a program called Iraqi Women’s Engagement is helping empower Iraqi women while improving their position in Iraqi society and government. The program is also working with other U.S. agencies to help Anbar’s Civil Society organizations provide for those Iraqis excluded from other programs—such as widows, the disabled, and the elderly. Furthermore, as a reflection of Anbar’s progress and goodwill, Ramadi, al Anbar’s capital, has applied with Sister Cities International in hopes of promoting peace through mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation with a sister-city in the United States (see Sister Cities Web site). However, this news goes untold, keeping Americans as uninformed.